The Catholic Christian Funeral
The Vigil or Wake Service
This is the principal celebration of the Christian community during the time before the funeral liturgy. The Vigil ceremony is ordinarily led by a deacon or priest, who comes to the funeral home to lead a prayer service for the family and friends gathered for visitation with the body present. An open or closed casket is to be discerned by the members of the immediate family, or done as reflected in the plans or will of the deceased.
The Vigil service is a Liturgy of the Word, with intercessory prayers. The gathering for the occasion of the Vigil gives family members and friends of the deceased an opportunity to comfort one another.
Although separate from the formal Vigil ceremony, photographs, slide presentations, personal momentos, memorial cards, devotional prayer, and testimonials are additional personal elements that could be included to enrich the occasion of the wake.
The Funeral Mass
- Gathering with the Body Present When one of its members dies, the Church especially encourages the celebration of the Mass. At the Funeral Mass, the family and friends gather at the Church with the body present, expressive of the mystery of the Church, and hope in the Resurrection.
- When Ashes (Cremains) are Present Although a ceremony with the ashes, or cremains present is permitted, a ceremony with the body present enables the Church to utilize the full symbolism ritualized in Catholic funerals.
- The Sequence of the Mass The body enters the church. Carried by the pall bearers, pre-selected, fellow-Christians accompanying the body on its last journey. The body is blessed with Holy Water and the casket is then draped with the funeral pall, reminiscent of the baptismal garment once worn at the beginning of the Christian journey, pointing to the spiritual dignity of the baptized person. Often, a Cross is placed on the coffin, as a reminder that the Christian is marked by the sign of the Cross in Baptism, and through Jesus’ suffering on the Cross is brought to the victory of the Resurrection. A Book of the Gospels can sometimes be used, as a sign that Christians live by the Word of God and fidelity to that Word leads to eternal life. Secular symbols have NO PLACE in a Catholic funeral liturgy.The body of a layman or laywoman is brought by procession up the main aisle and arranged in the position with the feet closest to the sanctuary. After all, the person stood in the assembly facing the sanctuary in a position of hope throughout their life. In death, they are similarly arranged. The Easter Candle is placed near the entrance of the sanctuary, and near the location of the coffin. It reminds the faithful of Christ’s undying presence among them, of His victory over sin and death, and of their share in that victory by virtue of their Christian through the sacramental life of the Church. Christ is the Light who illumines the darkness, and reveals the path to life. His victorious light leads the way, even beyond the darkness of physical death. Music is an integral part of the Catholic funeral rites. It allows the community to express feelings that words alone fail to convey. It has the power to console and uplift the mourners and to strengthen the unity of the assembly in love and hope. Here at Church of the Little Flower, music is always included in all funeral masses. Incense is utilized as a sign of honor to the body of the deceased, which through Baptism became a temple of the Holy Spirit. Incense is also a sign of the community’s prayers rising to Heaven at this moment on behalf of the deceased.
- Eulogy It is tradition, here at Church of the Little Flower that a Eulogy be only done at the Vigil or Wake service (at the funeral home) or during the Rite of Committal (at the cemetery). Eulogies are not permitted during the Funeral Mass at Church of the Little Flower.
- Commendation The Commendation and Song of Farewell is chanted or sung. “Saints of God, come to his aid, hasten to meet him. O angels of the Lord, receive his soul and present him to God, the Most High.”
- The Procession to the Place of Repose Often times, many in attendance at the Funeral Mass accompany the family to the place of repose for the brief Rite of Committal and interment.
The Rite of Committal
Immediately following the Funeral Mass is the Rite of Committal. The Rite of Committal, the conclusion of the funeral rites, is the final act of the community of faith in caring for the body of its deceased member. In the Archdiocese of Miami, it be may be celebrated at three locations:
- Grave, sometimes called the burial plot, where permanent bodily in-ground burial is to take place;
- Tomb or Mausoleum, where permanent above-ground bodily interment takes place;
- Columbarium, where the ashes (cremains) are permanently reposed
In committing a body to its resting place, the community expresses the hope that, with those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, the deceased awaits the glory of the Resurrection.
It is the expectation of the Catholic Church that the remains of the deceased (whether body or ashes) are given a place of permanent repose.
Catholic Burial Customs The brief Rite of Committal is an expression of the communion that exists between the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven. The Rite of Committal is essentially the moment when the place of permanent repose is blessed and the deceased is laid to rest.
The Sequence of the Ceremony
- Recalling the Word of God
- Litany of intercession for the deceased
- The Lord’s Prayer
- Concluding statement of hope-filled faith: “Eternal rest grant unto him/her, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. May he/she rest in peace. May his/her soul and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.”